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The need for project mangers with greater expertise

11 February 2019

As Australian businesses embrace project management, a study has revealed there’s a long way to go. Highly skilled project management professionals are more important than ever.

While the profession of project management is growing in the Australian business environment, a recent research report on project management trends in 2019, by KPMG and Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), has highlighted the need for greater expertise and skills amongst project managers themselves, and wiser treatment of the profession by organisations.

The survey, called The State of Play in Project Management, revealed several fascinating and concerning key findings. For example, only 30 per cent of projects are delivered on time, and just 36 per cent come in on budget.

Just 45 per cent of projects are met with stakeholder satisfaction and only 47 per cent meet the project’s original goal and business intent, while a mere 23 per cent of organisations say they deliver successful projects at least most of the time.

Some of the reasons for the low success figures are down to matters that are completely outside the control of the project managers themselves, such as strategic changes within the business and major shifts in the landscape in which the business exists. But this is also the report’s point. It’s time, say the researchers, for project managers to step up and take these various issues into consideration, to bring executive sponsors on board the project management teams, and to learn to operate more successfully in a fast-changing business environment.

There is enormous room for improvement in the field of project management. For those who step up, the rewards could be very handsome, indeed.

What can businesses do?

It’s not just project managers that must take the blame for some of the report’s poor success stats. Leadership teams of organisations are also responsible, with many still coming to terms with the value of the project management office (PMO).

Only 29 per cent of businesses, for example, have formal processes in place to develop project management capabilities. Less than 50 per cent of organisations use a centralised PMO to coordinate projects. Of those that do, just 33 per cent say their PMO is very or extremely effective.

Businesses that experience project success shares some common traits.

One is the fact that 67 per cent of their project deliveries are coordinated by a centralised PMO. Also, 66 per cent have formal review and development processes for their project management professionals. Perhaps most importantly, 74 per cent have actively engaged project sponsors.

In other words, successful businesses – ones that deliver projects effectively, on time, on budget and to the satisfaction of stakeholders – are businesses that take project management seriously. They respect the idea of a centralised PMO, recognise the value in the training and ongoing education of their project managers and ensure at least one member of the executive team is directly involved in each project. That executive sponsorship helps the project and its team to overcome potential barriers and win support within the business.

Governance of projects being managed, in terms of sponsorship and steering committees, is made successful through several key action areas. These include the creation of an accountability statement, provision of formal training around roles and responsibilities, formal processes that support the sponsorship and/or steering committee and organisational reviews that actively hold sponsors accountable for their project management responsibilities.

Next steps to project management success

What exactly can be done to improve the success rate of all organisations in their project management endeavours? The KPMG/AIPM research team made three broad suggestions.

The first is to invest in project management capability development programs. This is one of the traits of businesses that regularly experience successful project management outcomes. The main focus of these development programs, the research team says, should be soft skills, specifically change leadership, the negotiation of contracts and the positive and productive delegation of authority.

Solid project management capability helps an entire organisation to react to changing strategic priorities and to a changing business landscape. Project management skills are being used throughout organisations and outside of typical project management-related areas, to drive bottom-line growth.

Second is the conscious improvement of formal project management processes at an enterprise level.

This includes formalised benefits-measurement processes and programs, to take the perception of the PMO from an overhead to a value-add. The project manager role, the research report says, requires an evolution into one that takes on responsibility for the strategic business value that is at the centre of the project’s purpose.

At the same time sponsors from within the organisation must not only know their role and understand the project and its challenges but must also remain actively engaged throughout the project to its completion. Almost three quarters, or a massive 74 per cent, of organisations that experience successful project management outcomes, have actively engaged, well-trained sponsors whose responsibilities are stated clearly and measured regularly.

Third is a re-focussing of the enterprise PMO to the engagement of senior stakeholders and the delivery against strategic priorities. This typically requires a centralised PMO that is managed by, and which sees its projects managed by, professional and competent project management experts, as opposed to whoever is available at the time.

Each project manager should have skills commensurate with the task at hand, and should also have an eye to improving the core project management skills of their direct reports. At the same time, the organisation should concentrate on developing career pathways for professional project management specialists, just as it does for other lines of work.

Skills shortage solution

The figures that came out of The State of Play in Project Management report are of concern for businesses, but represent an enormous opportunity for the project management industry and for individuals who choose to skill themselves up to higher levels.

Fortunately, Southern Cross University’s Master of Project Management helps to offer resolutions to many of the issues identified within the project management trends in 2019. Not only does the Master of Project Management offer knowledge and skills that can be applied immediately within the workplace, but it also joins dots between management principles, successful execution of real-world projects and organisational strategy.

Core units include project management initiation and planning, quality control and risk, leading and managing projects, procurement and project management, and portfolio and program management.

But just as valuable, particularly in light of the research findings, are the electives which include organisational change and development, management communication, strategic knowledge management, stakeholder engagement and many more.

The practical and business skills offered within SCU’s Master of Project Management create the type of competent, stakeholder-focussed project manager that organisations will require for future success.

To find out more about the Master of Project Management, get in touch with our enrolment team on 1300 589 882.